Revisiting Flexfarmer five months later – efficient Chia farming on Raspberry Pi and more

This is another piece on a part of the Chia and cryptocurrency landscapes. See previous posts at https://rsts11.com/crypto

Back in August 2021, I wrote here about Increasing Chia farmer efficiency with Flexpool’s new FlexFarmer. I was alpha testing on Windows, Linux, and a Rock64 Pi-like computer before that, and I found that it was quite efficient, handling my 90TB farm easily on any platform without breaking a sweat, and carving around 100 watts off the power I needed to keep a dedicated farmer going.

Five months and several versions later, I wanted to come back with my experience and observations since then. I’ll also answer a couple of frequently answered questions here, for those of you who have common questions.

Disclosure: I still work for Flexpool as of this writing, but this post is based on my experience, not a press release or the pool admin’s expectations. Some of the testing I did was “on the clock” alongside support tasks, but I was not paid or asked to write this post.

Quick Flexfarmer recap

The basics are the same. With a tiny distributed binary and config file (under 10MB download) and the specifics of your PlotNFT in Chia (farmer secret key, launcher ID, payout address), at least one plot, you can start farming Chia without a fully synced node (which could save you over a week on a Pi-class machine, and at least a day or more on a more full-size PC).

Want to build a compact, inexpensive machine for farming? Read my three suggestions from a January 2022 post.

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Three ways to build low profile Chia (and forks) nodes

This is another piece on a part of the Chia and cryptocurrency landscapes. See previous posts at https://rsts11.com/crypto

Need to set up a lightweight VPN to get into your low profile node remotely? Check out Stephen Foskett’s writeup on Zerotier. I’m using it on my Pi nodes to reduce NAT layers.

Many if not most Chia farmers run a full node on their farming / plotting machine. Some larger farms will use the remote harvester model, with a single full node and several machines farming plots on local storage. 

If you’re using Flexfarmer from Flexpool, or just want a supplemental node (maybe to speed up your own resyncing, or to supplement decentralization on the Chia network), you might want a dedicated node that doesn’t farm or plot. And for that use case, you don’t really need dual EPYC or AMD Threadripper machines. 

In fact, a well-planned Raspberry Pi 4B 4GB or 8GB system, with an external USB drive, will do quite well for this use. If you want to do a few forks as well, or another blockchain full node, a moderately-recent Intel NUC would do quite well for not much more. 

So here we’ll look at three builds to get you going. Note that any of these can run a full node plus Flexfarmer if you want, or just a full node. 

If you don’t already have Chia software and a full node installed, go ahead and install and sync the node on a full scale PC. it may save you five days of waiting. My original build for this use case was to test the blockchain syncing time from scratch.

Syncing from a semi-optimal Pi 4B from scratch took about 8 days, for what it’s worth. One member of the Chia public Keybase forum reported about 28 hours to sync on an Intel Core i5 12600k. 

Caveat: Raspberry Pi boards are a bit more challenging to find and even harder to find anywhere near the frequently-touted $35 price point, or even under $150. And for Chia nodes, you want a minimum of the 4GB Pi 4B (8GB wouldn’t hurt). So while it’s possible to run on older hardware, it’s not recommended.

 

You might also be able to run on a Pi400 (the Raspberry Pi 4B in a keyboard case, which is much easier to find for $100 or so, complete). I plan to test this soon.

 

Raspberry Pi with external USB SSD. 

This was my initial build, and today it’s running at the Andromedary Instinct providing an accessible full node for about 10-15 watts maximum. 

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Turnkey Chia farming with Evergreen Miner, and making your own compact farmer

Disclosures at the end, as usual

A few years ago, a turnkey desktop container/VM platform from Antsle came along, and I thought “this is cool, but I bet I could make one myself.” You can read about that here on rsts11.

Earlier this month I saw a low power Pi-based project similar to the Antsle Nano (which I did build on my own) come out for Chia farming. The project, Evergreen Miner (evergreenminer.com), is the brainchild of a young geek named Dylan Rose who’s worked with Amazon and other companies and has begun an interesting forward-looking Chia project to really bring Chia farming to the masses.

I’ve written about building your own Chia system, and lots of people (tens of thousands at least) have done so. But some people aren’t up for the space, expense, time, tuning, software building, and so forth to make a node and farm.

However, a lot of people could benefit from the technology and platform and even more into the future as the ecosystem matures. So the idea of a turnkey platform that’s relatively easy to build and maintain and expand, even without plotting on your own, sounds pretty good.

Think all of the functionality and potential of Chia, with the ease of setup and management of a typical mobile app, and of course the power draw of an LED light bulb or two. No hardware or Linux or filesystem or SAS knowledge required.

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Increasing Chia farmer efficiency with Flexpool’s new ‘FlexFarmer’

There’s an updated Flexfarmer post aso f January 2022. Check out Revisiting Flexfarmer five months later.

You’ve probably seen my previous Chia posts, including how to build an efficient but sufficiently beefy plotter/farmer. As a long-time datacenter guy, I like building affordable, powerful servers.

Chia-specific cryptocurrency posts

However, as many farmers have found, if you plot and farm on the same machine, I/O can impact your farming performance, whether it’s disk I/O within the box, or writing off to a network share somewhere.

On top of that, you have to maintain a full Chia node, and optimally set up distributed harvesting with a somewhat complicated process. The full node currently requires about 13GB of local storage and frequent writes, so a Raspberry Pi or the like with an SD card is suboptimal. This also requires up to two days (for most computers) to sync the node initially, during which time you’re not at your best as a farmer.

Imagine if you could farm with the plots you have, using a tiny computer with very little CPU / RAM / storage requirements, without running and maintaining a full node, and saving 100W or more in the process.

Flexpool has just released their ‘FlexFarmer’ program which does just that.

Disclosure: I do work for Flexpool, but this post is based on my experience, not a press release or the pool admin’s expectations. Some of the testing I did was “on the clock” alongside support tasks, but I was not paid or required to write this post.

What does FlexFarmer do?

At a high level, FlexFarmer communicates with a node proxy on the pool server to communicate work and space, instead of requiring a local full node to operate. This means that anything that would require a full Chia node is handled on a powerful, resilient node at the Flexpool end.

You do still need to install the full Chia software to create your wallet. There will probably be ways around this in the future. You will also want a more formidable system for plotting, as the Raspberry Pi isn’t good for more than 1-2 plots a day.

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Chia update and frequently answered questions

Just 15 days ago, I posted a somewhat quick introduction to Chia farming as well as a quick guide to Chia hardware starting points and, a few days later, a step-by-step build of the Intel NUC 10th gen plotter inspired by chiadecentral. Today I posted the start of a Frequently Ungoogled Chia Questions post that I will add to over the coming weeks.

I expected a few dozen people in the Telegram chats I was in to read it, and some Tech Field Day cohorts, and a few random bots on Twitter. 

Well…

50000 airplane banner by Dake via Wikimedia Commons

Over 50,000 readers later, I’m pretty shocked. In fourteen days it surpassed the former leaders, Cisco UCS for beginners – an end-user’s overview and Five fun and useful uses for an extra PCI slot, to become the most read post in my site’s 10 year history.

Lots of comments have shown that it was useful and provoked interest and thought, as well as showing that not everything was fully covered in that post and its follow-ons (hence the new Frequently Ungoogled Chia Questions post). 

And a lot of you were kind enough to use my affiliate links to buy your Chia gear (and some other things I’m sure), for which this between-jobs blogger is grateful. 

What’s new, Chia-cat? Whoa, whoa whoa…

Since those posts came out, Chia transactions went live a week ago, with a peak price on some exchanges of around US$1500 per XCH and a current price of around US$1000 (as I type this). (Click the link or the image for current charts from CoinGecko.)

The world of Chia will become more interesting next week when the pool protocol and design come out from Chia HQ. Like other crypto pools, this development will make it possible to spread out work and rewards more evenly than solo mining/farming. 

It is not expected to end solo farming, which is what has been going on since mainnet opened in March. So if (like me) you’re plotting and farming already, you can keep those plots up and available for another few years and hope for more rewards. 

How’s your hardware going?

Robert's primary chia farming gear

From left to right: Dell Precision T7910, cheap EMC and Dell SAS arrays for supplemental storage, Dell precision T5810

You may remember from my original post that I’m running Chia on my Ryzen 5 3600 desktop (not pictured), a T7910 beast workstation (pictured above), and a T5810 mini-beast (pictured above). Last week I built a NUC-based plotter, and except for filling up the stopgap slow storage drives, and maybe running a little bit warm, it’s worked pretty well so far. 

I’ve taken a liking to the Micron P420m PCIe flash cards, although they’ve become more scarce lately. These are PCIe 2.0 x8 cards that may be branded Micron, EMC, or HP, with 700GB or 1400GB of storage, and write endurance of 9000 and 18000 TBW respectively…

if you have the spare slots, cards like these are pretty good, and while they’re not photonics-speed, they’re quite fit for purpose. Consider other brands, and check with the seller for any details on SMART or other lifespan monitoring data available. A couple of mine had apparently never been powered up before, but a member of our Telegram chat got one that was a lot closer to demise. 

If you can’t find the affordable PCIe cards, datacenter-class SSDs are always showing up, for as low as $200 for a 1.6TB drive (good for 5 plots) . And as mentioned in a previous post, if your motherboard supports PCIe bifurcation, there are several 4x NVMe cards available to get your high speed storage right on the bus. 

Where do we go from here?

Send your questions in if you have something not answered on the posts so far. I’m thinking about a NUC build video, as I have an older one that’s almost identical in build, so if you think videos or other topics would be good to see. 

I’ll be trying to consolidate storage this week, and upgrading the T5810. Right now I have 40+ TB of underutilized space in my SAS arrays, and some 12TB white label drives to test out and put into use.